Empowering Migrant Labourers

A member of Prayas distributes information material among the workers on a sugarcane field.
A member of Prayas distributes information material among the workers on a sugarcane field. (Photo: Henrik Rubner)

In rural India, shrinking gains from agriculture forces more and more farmers to look for alternative sources of income. Outside the harvest season, many of them migrate to urban hubs with high hopes, only to find insecure jobs under precarious conditions. In addition, labour migration also creates severe challenges for the workers’ families who often stay behind. Our project partners Prayas and Kislay support migrants as well as their dependents in asserting their constitutionally granted rights. 

While the formal sector is regulated by comprehensive labour laws, more than 90% of India’s workforce is employed informally and devoid of legal protection. The situation of most seasonal labour migrants is even more severe: Illiteracy, separation from their social environment and a low degree of organisation prevent many workers from asserting their rights against their employers. Moreover, many of the seasonal migrants belong to socially marginalised groups like Dalits and Adivasis and face various forms of societal discrimination. Consequently, working conditions often remain hazardous to health, timings exceed the legal limitations and wages are paid irregularly – or even withheld completely.

In cooperation with RLS, Prayas supports labourers who seasonally migrate to work on distant sugarcane plantations in southern Gujarat. For a better understanding of their working and living conditions, our partner conducts extensive research which forms the basis of their capacity building workshops, where workers can learn about their legally granted rights like access to health and child care, workplace protection and other public entitlements. In their places of origin, Prayas assists the farmers in making their modes of cultivation more resilient against harmful ecological influences, but also finding alternative, local sources of income. As child labour is another pressing issue in the area, Prayas closely cooperates with local schools in order to provide better prospects to young people than migration into precarious work.

Our project partner Kislay conducts research on seasonal migrant labourers in the so far less observed states of Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand with regard to the reasons for migrations, the challenges for workers on the move and the intersection of different forms of social marginalisation and labour migration.

Our Partners

Initially working on health issues of the Adivasi population of southern Rajasthan, the 1979 founded organisation Prayas soon expanded its area of work to topics like adult education, forest rights and labour. Within the latter, Prayas focus lays on the rights of seasonal migrant labourer and combating child labour.

Besides their research on labour migration, Kislay studies topics like the control over land and natural resources and labour in the unorganised sector. All this is directly linked to their practical work, with which they support construction workers, domestic workers and people living in informal housing to organize politically. The organisation was founded in 1991.

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